The Mission: Way back in the recession-bound depths of 2009, we skipped our normal balls-to-the-wall Dream Machine build in favor of three more modest PCs. Rather than a $10,000 ode to excess, we built rigs actual people would build. Our $1,400 midrange system, which we called the Budget Surplus, was kitted out with an Intel Core i7-920 overclocked to 3.5GHz on a Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD3R motherboard with 6GB DDR3, a 1.5TB boot drive, and the finest in dual-GPU technology: a Radeon HD 4870x2.
The Budget Surplus is showing its age—nearly three years old! I’ve had many people with similar systems ask if it’s time for a new rig, but I’m hesitant to recommend a major upgrade before Ivy Bridge and Ivy Bridge-E come out.
Rather than going all-out on a new machine, I’m going to bring our 2009-era box into the present day with a few upgrades that’ll make the machine feel new again, and that I’ll be able to bring with me when I do bite the bullet on a new CPU and motherboard.
Building expensive, over-the-top machines is easy. It’s when you dip below the $1,000 mark that it gets difficult. This month, I undertook the challenge of building the best all-around PC I could for less than $850. To me, that meant a machine good at multithreaded tasks as well as gaming. We’ve said it before, and we’ll stick to our guns: Intel’s Core i5-2500K is the sweet spot for price/performance. Unfortunately, that price is too high for this configuration. That left me pondering whether to do yet another Core i3 box or another AMD box.
Readers have been ragging on us about what fantastic deals Phenom II procs currently are. I looked high and low and, surprisingly, I did find some e-tailers selling Phenom IIs way below the list price. For just $139, you can net a 3.5GHz Phenom II X4 970. That gives you four cores, a much larger cache, and a fully unlocked part for not much more than the Athlon II X4 has been going for. The Phenom II X4 isn’t always a clear-cut winner against its Intel counterpart, the 3.3GHz Core i3-2120, but it does hold its own in multithreading tasks and game-related chores, which are all about the GPU.
AMD’s Bulldozer architecture finally hit retail in October 2011, and Gordon put the highest-performing chip, the FX-8150, through the wringer. His conclusion: It’s a decent competitor to Intel’s i5-2500K, but no match for the (much more expensive) Sandy Bridge-E or 2600K parts. And that’s OK; there are plenty of reasons to want a solid midrange performer. Maybe you really, really want to be able to say you have an eight-core processor. Maybe you’re opposed to Intel for religious reasons. Or maybe you just want real PCIe x16 lanes without having to put out for the pricey X79 platform.
Whatever your reason, an FX-8150 can be a respectable foundation for a solid gaming rig since modern gaming is still more about the GPU than the CPU. In this article, we'll give you a step-by-step walkthrough of our build--if you're wondering how to build a killer gaming PC of your own, read on!
We're tired of arcane web interfaces and sluggish CPUs on our network storage. It's time to build a Windows Home Server with enough capacity for all our data and enough power to flawlessly stream HD video.
In an age of sloppy console ports, Battlefield 3 is a huge relief for PC gamers. Not only is the PC a “lead platform” for DICE’s flagship modern shooter, but we’re getting all the good stuff: 64-player maps? You won’t find ‘em on a console. DirectX 11 graphics? Only on a PC, Sparky. Indeed, Battlefield 3’s Frostbite 2 engine brings fully destructible environments, ambient occlusion, MLAA, and full DX11 support—and it reaches its full potential only on the PC. But with great power comes great power requirements: DICE’s minimum recommended GPU is a GeForce GTX 560 or AMD Radeon HD 6950, and performance scales up from there. That means a lot of us are going to have to go get new videocards—or a whole new rig.
Any Neanderthal can slap together a $3,000 box and play Battlefield 3 like a dream, but that’s out of reach for most people. So we decided to build a machine that can play BF3 as nature intended—at 1920x1200 resolution, with all settings at Ultra—and do it for less than $1,600.
Intel has just released its new Sandy Bridge-E platform. With six- and eight-core processors, eight DIMM slots, and multiple PCIe 3.0 slots, it’s Nehalem’s true heir and the answer to complaints that Sandy Bridge, while awesome, just isn’t enthusiast enough. (Check out our official benchmarks here).
I’ve gotten my hands on the Sandy Bridge-E flagship CPU: the Core i7-3960X, a $1,000, six-core beast at 3.3GHz. Oh, and a motherboard and cooler to go with it. I’ve rustled up a passel of RAM, a titanic GPU, a quiet case, and a speedy SSD. I’m going to see whether X79 has what it takes to wrest the enthusiast crown from X58, and whether it can do so quietly.
We’ve built our fair share of home theater PCs in the past, with all sorts of different use cases in mind. Our August 2010 HTPC was a stunner built for 3D, with passively cooled GPU, CPU, and PSU, as well as a four-channel CableCard tuner and Blu-ray 3D support. In June 2011, Gordon tried to make a small-form-factor HTPC that could cut out the previous build’s bulk (and CableCard) while still supporting Blu-ray 3D. Both of those rigs handled their respective tasks well, but what if I don’t care about cable but do care about gaming? This month’s task is to create a kick-ass gaming rig in an HTPC form factor—one that can handle modern games, as well as 3D Blu-ray and Dolby TrueHD audio, without sounding like a jet engine.
As Maximum PC senior editor Gordon Mah Ung puts it, building a budget gaming rig for a 30-inch panel is the metaphorical equivalent of slapping a Ferrari engine into a crappy Ford car. If you can afford a display that rings up north of $2,000, then why the heck are you trying to cut corners on the system you’re connecting it to?
I can’t answer that one for you. But what I can tell you is exactly how you can go about getting the best frame rate for your buck without purchasing a PC that’s more expensive than your mega-monitor.
If the Thermaltake Level 10 GT wasn’t visually striking enough for you, the just announced Snow Edition could be perfect. Good build quality, unique looks, and now glossy white paint makes this case a builder’s dream. But get your credit card in hand before you get your heart set on it.
Ever since Intel’s 810 “Whitney” chipset hit the streets in the late ’90s, integrated graphics have been synonymous with suckage. This year, though, integrated graphics have been making a comeback as Intel and AMD have put their might toward offering game-worthy graphics alongside the CPU.
Can AMD’s A-series chip. Code-named “Llano,” offer decent gaming with integrated graphics? We gave our $667 PC an AMD makeover to find out.